By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Mayoral candidates continued to spar Monday related to Tupelo’s efforts to use taxpayer funding for neighborhood redevelopment and down-payment loans for homebuyers.
Republican Fred Pitts, a longtime businessman, defended city efforts during his time on the City Council, while Democrat Jason Shelton, an attorney, said he would hold the line on city spending.
Heading into the home stretch before facing each other in the June 4 general election, the candidates fielded questions at the Traceway Retirement Community.
During the current administration, city government has begun efforts to redevelop blighted parts of West Jackson Street, buying parts of properties with plans to sell them back to private developers for middle-income housing.
Pitts said the city spent $3,800 a month in police costs before taking action to close the apartments at West Jackson Street and Clayton Avenue.
“You have to reinvest in what you believe in,” Pitts said. “And I believe in the city.”
Pitts said city leaders for the last 20 years before he took office didn’t pay attention to decaying neighborhoods, which led to slower growth compared to surrounding areas outside of the city.
While Shelton says he supports the West Jackson Street redevelopment effort, he opposes future redevelopment projects.
“That’s something I think we need to be very careful with,” Shelton said. “Who gets to decide who purchases the property? Is it going to be property next to your home?”
Shelton has previously said he supports tax incentives for homeowners and developers to improve their properties.
Current Mayor Jack Reed Jr. and Pitts have also supported the city funding down payment loans for residents looking to buy houses in Tupelo. While not supported by a majority of the City Council, the effort intended to bring equity to federal home loans that do not require down payments for property in rural areas outside the city.
Mayoral hopefuls Fred Pitts and Jason Shelton will meet in a forum Friday at the Summit Center jointly sponsored by the Tupelo Kiwanis and Rotary clubs. The forum will follow lunch at noon. The public is invited.